Jay Hill's 3 prescriptions for a better Parliament
End the abuse of members' statements and behave better, former Conservative whip tells MPs and media
Former Conservative whip Jay Hill spoke to the Manning Networking Conference last week and finished his speech with a prescription for fixing Parliament.
Hill issued three challenges: one to all MPs, including House Speaker Andrew Scheer, one to the opposition and one to journalists. Here is an edited version of that section of his speech.
1. End the abuse of members' statements
"One of the reasons that I chose to leave public life when I did was that I found the longer I remained in the House, I was becoming less partisan, at a time when the House became a much nastier place to work.
"My longer term fear is that this, when combined with a new age of instant gotcha politics, will have a long-term effect of dissuading our nation's best and brightest from considering to serve.
"So my challenge is to all parties, all MPs and senators, and especially to all leaders, to try harder to work collectively and cooperatively in the best interest of Canadians. In my opinion, Parliament has become much too partisan and attacks much too personal.
"A case in point is the abuse of the one-minute SO-31 member statements prior to the daily question period.... Perhaps by all-party agreement the Speaker should be tasked with striking a committee of the most respected backbench MPs, one from each recognized party, that could vet the statements in advance. And I don't see any reason that couldn't be done. And it would at least start the process of quelling the worst partisanship on the floor."
2. Opposition should act like government-in-waiting
"I want to challenge our two main opposition parties to stop behaving so much as opposition and more like a legitimate government in waiting. I've always believed that democracy under our system is best served when the electorate believes they have a clear choice, that if the government in power, regardless of which party it is, becomes too disconnected, too arrogant and too self-serving, there is a clear alternative.
"Disillusioned voters should know that they don't have to stay home and not vote, or vote for another party by default, but that there is an alternative that is clearly ready to govern, not just oppose. And I believe that when this dynamic is present, the result is better government."
3. Innocent until proven guilty
"I want to take the opportunity to challenge the media. We know who holds politicians accountable. But, ultimately, who holds the media to account if they get a story wrong? We've all read front-page stories with dramatically torqued headlines that if you take the time to read the text has little relation to the facts contained in the story itself. Then if they're proved to be wrong, the correction or retraction, if printed at all, might be found buried on page eight in small print.
"And likewise with the editorializing and the sensationalizing of stories in the electronic media. The presumption of innocence is integral to our justice system. Yet it seems no longer applied to politicians and I could bore you to tears with examples. Is it any wonder then that citizens hold those elected to govern in such disdain?
"When this guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude of the mainstream media consumes the majority of reporting on Parliament Hill these days, is it so surprising the vast majority of our most successful citizens take a pass on public service? Especially if they fully appreciate the negative effect that that life is going to have on a politician's spouse and children. If we want a healthy democracy, ladies and gentlemen, we must find a way to address this. The onus cannot be on the politician to be constantly prepared to prove him or herself innocent rather than on a more ethical news media to up their threshold for presumed guilt."